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The specter of Covid-19 continues to hang over the Ashes after four members of the English tour emerged as positive cases before the second day of the third test in Melbourne.

The England XI passed a series of emergency lateral flow tests at the team’s hotel, allowing play to begin after a 30-minute delay. But a new round of PCR tests scheduled after the strains – the results of which are expected before the start of the third day – threatens to significantly alter the prognosis of the tour.

Jimmy Anderson, speaking after day two, said: “As far as I know the whole squad and management who were on the pitch today feel great. We have tightened security protocols around the locker room, wearing masks and keeping a distance where possible to ensure there are [further] infection, it has not spread.

“We actually got on the bus to come to the ground at the usual time, but then we were told to get off the bus because we discovered a few positives. All the guys then walked in and had sideways feeds to make sure we were all okay, then waited for the green light to come here on the ground.

The outbreak was first detected on Boxing Day evening when a family member traveling with the team began to experience symptoms of the virus. This was then followed by positive results for an additional family member and two of the English coaching staff, with a third seen as close contact.

With both teams already operating under increased restrictions in Victoria designed to reduce their contact with the general public – including only eating out and avoiding crowds – the nature of the locker rooms and recent Christmas celebrations mean that propagation remains possible.

If so, it would threaten to jeopardize not only the third test, but the fourth which begins in Sydney on January 5 and the fifth test in Hobart a week later. Tired of bubble life after nearly two years, both groups of players would likely push back any move from Cricket Australia to push for stricter restrictions than those already in place.

When asked on Monday if the tour was in danger, Nick Hockley, managing director of Cricket Australia, replied: “No. That’s what protocols are for. We are extremely vigilant as there are more and more cases in the community, but our protocols are designed for absolutely this set of events.

“What we are all working to do is keep this series going because players on both sides are desperate to keep playing. We will do everything we can to make that happen.”

Asked about the arrangements for Sydney, amid speculation that just ending the series in Melbourne might be the best option, Hockley replied, “In Sydney we have exclusive ownership for the playgroup and we are flying there. in charter. Everyone is now on high alert, everyone is very careful. “

The number of cases in Victoria rose to 1,999 on Boxing Day and, in addition to the outbreak in the English camp, broadcaster Channel Seven was forced to review its commentary teams after a member of the team production contracted the virus. Ian Botham and Ricky Ponting, the former Australian test captain, were among those asked to stay away initially, but eventually returned after negative PCR results.

The developments further underscore the precarious nature of a series that involved tense bubble negotiations and which has already resulted in Australian captain Pat Cummins self-isolating and missing the second test in Adelaide due to close contact. with a positive case in a restaurant.

The match, a 275-run win for Australia that took them to a 2-0 lead in the series, also saw an outbreak in the media center, with separate positive cases both in the BBC Test Match special team and in the production team of host broadcaster Fox. Sports causing disruption to their respective services.

Along with a general disruption of the schedule over the past two years, English cricket has already seen three men’s series directly affected by the Covid outbreaks. Their ODIs in South Africa 12 months ago have been postponed due to positive cases in the hotel, while the entire England 50+ squad and coaching staff have been changed to a series against Pakistan over the past summer when players contracted the virus.

Most damaging was the fifth test against India at Old Trafford in September which was called off before play started on opening day – and later rescheduled for summer 2022 – after a physio who had groomed the tour became the fourth member of their support staff to test positive.

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